Friday, May 29, 2020

Pati, Patni Aur Woh: Review

In the trailer for Pati Patni Aur Woh, Kartik Aaryan’s Abhinav ends a rant about put-on Indian middle-class husbands with: “If we somehow find a roundabout way to get sex (from our wives), we’re called balaatkari (rapists)". The line was roundly criticized, and has been replaced in Mudassar Aziz's film with badsanskari (bad values). Offensive as it is, I wish it’d been left in. It fixes the film squarely in the #MeToo era, with serious questions of consent devolving into inanities like “now we can’t even talk to women anyone".

Perhaps the line was bait – there’s nothing in the film remotely as incendiary. In fact, the problem with Pati, Patni Aur Woh isn’t that it’s offensive, but that it's dull and predictable for too much of its running time. It starts with a provocation; as their families meet to discuss a possible union, Vedika (Bhumi Pednekar, her skin tone back to normal after Bala) responds to Abhinav's timid question about her hobbies with “Sex". But she likes what she sees, and soon they’re husband and wife.

The film skips over their honeymoon period; a few scenes after the wedding, they’re just another Kanpur couple leading staid lives. Even their jobs are boring – he’s in the Public Works Department; she’s a physics teacher. The stasis weighs on Abhinav, who keeps bringing up an old flame to his friend Fahim (Aparshakti Khurana). But then a new distraction enters his life: Tapasya (Ananya Panday), newly arrived from Delhi, in search of a plot of land. Abhinav, captivated by her big-city glamour, gets assigned to her case. Soon, he’s spending all his time with her and lying to his wife.

As Abhivav begins to stray, the film loses out on having him and Vedika in scenes together. It’s a pity: the two are a believable, deftly drawn couple, more interesting when they’re bickering than he is with the blandly available Tapasya. Aaryan's moustache might remind viewers of Amol Palekar, but it might be better to think of him as a defiantly un-woke alternative to the male anxiety figure represented by Ayushmann Khurana. He gets to do his patented women-ruin-everything rants, but the film wants it both ways, tacking on a ridiculous twist to show how much agency Vedika has.

Aziz’s films after Happy Bhaag Jayegi (2016) haven’t quite landed, but he has an undeniable way with words. All the actors get eccentrically memorable lines here, with Aparshakti a particular delight. Not many performers have the chops to make “Astaghfirullah" and “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone" equally funny. It might be time to take the actor off supporting duty.

This review appeared in Mint.

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